An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated Republicans suggested third-graders learn how to treat gunshot wounds. The Texas lawmaker who proposed the plan is a Democrat. This version has been updated.
They insist that more guns will bring less crime. And they claim that more guns in more hands are a key answer to mass shootings, because “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Okay then: If guns make us safer, how many will it take? Will 500 million guns do it? Six hundred million? Will a billion guns be enough?
The advocates have certainly been getting what they want. In many states, gun laws have become dramatically looser, and the number of guns in the United States keeps increasing. While it’s hard to know precisely how many are in circulation, estimates range from 352 million to 434 million.
Gun sales have been rising steadily for two decades. They rose especially fast during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and came down only slightly in 2022. The FBI’s background check system, which misses most private sales, logged nearly 40 million gun purchases in 2020 alone.
Gun deaths, both suicides and homicides, have also risen steadily. In 2021, there were about 21,000 gun homicides and more than 26,000 gun suicides.
Good-guy-with-a-gun proponents imply that there exists a kind of Laffer curve of gun murders that will be our liberation. Recall the quack economic theory propagated by Arthur Laffer positing that raising tax rates slightly from a low starting point might bring in more revenue, but further increases would cause revenue to fall as people discouraged by taxation stopped working.
Gun advocates seem to assume a similar arc for the relationship of guns to gun violence: At some point, there will be so many guns that the trends will reverse, crime will be deterred, and all arguments will be resolved peacefully. Once enough people — perhaps all of us? — are packing heat at all times and ready to kill, then we will finally be safe.
In the meantime, we live in fear. There have been more than 200 mass shootings in the United States already in 2023. Alongside these spectacular events and the daily body count from arguments and grudges that escalate into armed combat, we have the new terror of “law-abiding” gun owners so frightened by strangers knocking on their doors or turning around in their driveways that they open fire.
Meanwhile, the FBI feels it necessary to produce public service announcements with tips on how to survive a mass shooting in your favorite restaurant.
This cycle is fed by gun marketing and NRA rhetoric, which tell people that they must acquire more guns because there are so many people out there with guns. Conservative politicians such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) implore people to buy more guns.
The same people insist that guns can’t possibly be to blame for the endless carnage. It must be weaknesses in our mental health system, as though other countries with far fewer gun deaths don’t also have people who struggle with mental health issues. Or perhaps it’s that we aren’t sufficiently devout, as some on the right argue: If we spent more time asking God to stop the shootings in our streets, our schools and our malls, He might do something about it.
But guns themselves, they keep telling us, are a solution to the problem. So when will we have enough that we will emerge into the bright future of safety we’ve been promised?